The ultimate spider fake-out

Photo: Phil Torres

Photo: Phil Torres

If a kid is clever enough to stuff their pillows under the covers in vague approximation of their body shape when they sneak out at night to egg a house or steal nativity sets or whatever it is that kids do these days, then a spider could be clever enough, too.

As it happens, one species of spider is, and it came as a big surprise to biologist Phil Torres. Torres was leading a group of visitors to the Tambopata Research Center on a hike through a part of the western Amazon. They stopped to observe what looked like a dead spider that had been overgrown with fungus and rot on a web. Torres and the visitors were pretty shocked when the spider started to move. On closer inspection, they saw a much smaller, live spider just above the dead one, pulling on its web to make the dead spider move like a marionette.

The puppeteer was from the genus Cyclosa, and the dead spider wasn’t exactly a dead spider. This particular species of Cyclosa had made the decoy out of dead bugs, leaves, and other detritus from the forest, binding the matter together with silk. Researchers think Cyclosa started spinning the puppets to confuse and mislead predators.

According arachnologists, this unique behavior could point to a new species, though more research is needed. Torres started on the research right away; he set out to find more decoys in the area around Tambopata, and uncovered 25 more. Early next year, Torres will start collecting the spiders themselves to observe their anatomy and determine if they are in fact an undiscovered – and very clever – species.

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One response to “The ultimate spider fake-out

  1. Pingback: More on the mysterious puppeteer spider | Scientific Chicago·

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